Breyer, now 83, is a pragmatic force in a court that has become increasingly conservative over the years and tries to forge majorities of more moderate justices left and right.
They spoke under the condition of anonymity to avoid prejudicing Breyer's announcement. NBC reported the plans for justice's first.
Since 1994, Breyer was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a justice. Breyer, along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the late Justice), chose not to resign the last time that the Democrats controlled both the Senate and White House during Barack Obama's presidency. Ginsburg passed away in September 2020. Then-President Donald Trump filled that vacancy with Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative justice.
Breyer's departure, which is expected to occur in the summer, will not change the 6-3 advantage that the conservatives have on the court. His replacement will be nominated and confirmed almost by the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest majority. This makes conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, 73, the oldest member on the court.
U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Krager are among the names being circulated. Circuit Judge Ketanji brown Jackson, Sherrilyn Ifill, a prominent civil rights lawyer, and U.S. district Judge Michelle Childs, who Biden has nominated for an appeals court. Childs is a favorite candidate of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who gave a critical endorsement of Biden right before the 2020 South Carolina presidential primary.
Breyer was often overshadowed in favor of Ginsburg by his liberal colleagues. He authored two major opinions supporting abortion rights on a court that was divided over the issue. In addition, he expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the death penalty through a series of dissenting opinion in recent years.
Breyer's views regarding the Ten Commandments being displayed on government property are a good example of his search for a middle way. In twin Kentucky cases, he was the sole member of the court that ruled against Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses. However, he allowed one Ten Commandments display to continue on the grounds at the Texas state capitol in Austin.
Breyer, who has served on the court for more than 27 years, is a cheerful and active questioner during arguments. He is also a frequent public speaker, quick to crack a joke, sometimes at his expense. Breyer made a pleasant appearance on a National Public Radio humor program in 2007 but failed to answer questions about pop stars.
His elaborate and sometimes far-fetched hypothetical questions to lawyers during arguments are what made him famous. He also had the air of an inept professor. He actually taught antitrust law at Harvard before he began his professional career.
He worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Breyer stated that this experience made him a strong believer in compromise.
He could still write passionate dissents as he did in Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the 2000 election for Republican George W. Bush. Breyer unsuccessfully asked his colleagues to send the case back to Florida to create a "constitutionally proper contest" to determine the winner.
Breyer was frustrated after he lost a difficult term in June 2007, when he received roughly two dozen 5-4 rulings. He then reacted to the decision and summarized his disapproval.
Breyer stated, "It's not often that so many have so quickly changed so much," in a packed courtroom. This was an ad-libbed statement that was not part his opinion.
His work in the Senate was instrumental in his appointment by President Jimmy Carter to Boston's federal appeals court judge. He was also confirmed with bipartisan support, even after Carter's defeat in 1980. Breyer was a member of the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals for 14 years. Circuit Court of Appeals, before being elevated to the Supreme Court.
His 87-9 high court confirmation was the last to have fewer than 10 dissident votes. Breyer's opinions are notable for not having footnotes. Arthur Goldberg, a Supreme Court justice whom Breyer worked as a young lawyer, warned Breyer against using such a writing device.
Breyer once stated, "It's an important point to make, if you believe as I do that the main function of an opinion it to explain to the audience why it is that the court reached that decision." It's not enough to prove you are right. It doesn't matter if you are right or wrong; it is impossible to prove your rights.
Breyer was born in San Francisco and became an Eagle Scout at the age of 14. He then began a distinguished academic career at Stanford, where he graduated with the highest honors. He went to Oxford where he was awarded first-class honors for philosophy, politics, and economics.
Breyer attended Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review. He graduated with highest honors.
Breyer started his career as a Goldberg law clerk after completing law school. After graduating from law school, he worked as an assistant in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. He later split his time between being a Harvard professor and a lawyer for Senate Judiciary Committee.
Breyer and Joanna Blakenham are psychologists and were the daughters of John Blakenham. They have three children, Chloe, Nell, and Michael, and six grandchildren.